NSW Premier Mike Baird faces an early test of his leadership after the corruption watchdog claimed police minister Mike Gallacher’s scalp.
Newly minted premier Mike Baird vowed to clean up NSW politics, but the corruption watchdog might do the job for him.
Toppled police minister Mike Gallacher became the third cabinet member and sixth Liberal MP to be sidelined from two Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) probes into NSW politics.
Two weeks after being installed as premier when Barry O’Farrell became ICAC’s biggest scalp, Mr Baird has inherited a desperate crisis and faces a job possibly even harder than governing NSW.
“I will take every action possible to clean up politics in NSW,” he said on Friday as he announced he had no choice but to accept Mr Gallacher’s resignation because of the serious allegations levelled at him.
The leader of the upper house with a previous blemish-free reputation was seen as one of Mr Baird’s best assets in his bid for a clean government, with an election due in March next year.
But Mr Gallacher was forced to resign after ICAC heard allegations the frontbencher had helped former energy minister Chris Hartcher funnel banned donations from former coal magnate Nathan Tinkler’s Buildev to Liberal Party coffers before the 2011 NSW election.
Counsel assisting, Geoffrey Watson SC, said Mr Gallacher introduced Buildev executive Darren Williams, with whom he had a close and longstanding relationship, to Hartcher staffer Tim Koelma, who set up alleged slush fund EightByFive.
“It was through him that the two of you hatched a corrupt scheme to make donations to the Liberal Party using the EightByFive business,” Mr Watson put to Mr Williams.
“No,” the witness replied.
Mr Williams is accused of helping arrange $66,000 in payments in return for favourable decisions about a lucrative coal terminal proposal at Newcastle, which he agreed was worth “a fortune” to Mr Tinkler.
“You were paying good money to get good access to politicians,” Mr Watson said.
“I always had good access to politicians,” Mr Williams replied.
“You had them on tap,” Mr Watson pressed on.
“You could ring them any time for a favour.”
NSW electoral funding laws have banned property developers making political donations since 2009.
Mr Hartcher and fellow Liberal MPs Chris Spence, Darren Webber and Marie Ficcara have already left the party and shifted to the cross benches amid corruption allegations.
It has been a horror honeymoon for the new premier, who took the state’s top when Mr O’Farrell was caught out over a $3000 bottle of wine gifted to him by another alleged EightByFive donor, Nick Di Girolamo.
Mr Gallacher said he was disappointed at the allegations.
“I have spent my entire professional life fighting corruption and crime,” the former police officer said on Friday.
Asked if he denied the allegations, Mr Gallacher told reporters: “I don’t even know what the allegation is.
“All I’ve heard this morning is that I’ve had a corrupt, longstanding relationship.
“I’ve yet to see what the allegation is, but I don’t intend to have the premier and the parliamentary team diverted by this.”
It is believed Mr Gallacher’s lawyers were warned their client could be in ICAC’s sights only on Friday morning.
Attorney-General Brad Hazzard will act as police and emergency services minister until a new minister is appointed.